Living Wage Advocates Speak Out Against “Bluff Project”

Mar. 28, 2014 / By

Christopher Zatarain arrived at the California Coastal Commission meeting at Long Beach City Hall at 8 a.m. last week to fill out a public comment card. He wanted to speak to the Commission about an issue close to his heart.

“I love my job as a hotel worker,” Zatrain said. “I get to welcome guests to our city, to our coast. I take pride in this because I take pride in Long Beach.”

Zatarain is a 35-year-old cook working at the Hyatt hotel and living in a bachelor studio apartment a short walk from City Hall. Zatarain and the Long Beach Coalition worked in 2012 to pass Measure N, a living wage ordinance that mandates Long Beach hotels with 100 rooms or more to pay its employees a minimum wage of $13 an hour.

“A manual labor job is just destructive on your body,” said Zatarin about the hospitality workers. “They hurt themselves for so little money.”

A potential multi-million dollar luxury hotel development known as the Bluff Project brought him and about 25 people to the meeting to discuss concerns about how the project will affect Long Beach residents and workers[1] .

At the Commission meeting, organizers from the hospitality workers union, Unite Here Local 11, and the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community held orange signs that read “We Love LCPs.”

When Zatarain approached the podium, they all raised them in the air.

Local Coastal Programs (LCPs) are planning tools that the Coastal Commission uses to guide future developments in coastal zones, and for the Bluff Project, which would build 40 hotel rooms and 56 condominiums overlooking the water, LCPs would be key.

“[The developers] are trying to build that hotel without any good jobs and any conversation with the local community,” said Jeannine Pearce, director of the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community.

The project would not be subject to Measure N.

“They get tons of perks to be able to build here and then they don’t want to sit down with the community members to make it a project that’s not going to have a negative impact,” said Pearce, who added that it’s critical that any new development in Long Beach has so called ‘community benefit agreements’.

Pearce said that since the passage of Measure N, she is noticing a concerning new practice in the city.

“You’re going to see the trend in hotel development called boutique hotels,” Pearce said. “Hotels that have double the staff of a regular hotel, but less rooms. So we have to make sure that those workers aren’t treated any differently than workers at other hotels.”

Although the issue of the Bluff Project was not Thursday’s agenda, the final decision to approve the project will be up to the Coastal Commission.

The developers of the Bluff Project sent representative Michael Bohn to speak to the Commission on their behalf. According to Bohn, he and the Commission have been in talks about the project since November 2013.

“This has been in discussion that’s been going back and forth with your staff, and I’ve enjoyed working with your staff,” Bohn said. “But now is the time to get this ball moving to get it on the April agenda.”

According to a statement from Bohn, the developers have improved the project since discussions began.

“Several commissioners commented back in the November meeting that this design was superior, being greener and providing more public amenities,” Bohn said.

Melanie Luthern, an organizer and researcher for Unite Here Local 11, said that although the Commission does not determine the wages of hotel workers, the purpose of the body is to protect the coast as an economic resource.

“[The developers] would love for the Coastal Commission not to exist,” Luthern said. “The Coastal Commission just stands in their way from this big pile of money that is the coast of California.”

Luthern believes that the Bluff Project will be on the agenda when the Coastal Commission meets in Santa Barbara April 9 through 11. She said that Unite Here Local 11 will also attend the meeting and plans to speak on behalf of Long Beach hospitality workers who will not be able to attend.

“What the developers want is to is build luxury hotels up and down the coast at the expense of coastal resources and on the backs of workers,” Luthern said. “And we have to prevent that from happening.”

When asked if he would be attending the Coastal Commission meetings in April, Zatarain said that he would like to, but it is doubtful.

“If I can get time off work,” he said.

California’s minimum wage is $8 an hour.

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Todd Johnson

Todd Johnson is a journalism graduate of California State University, Long Beach, where he served as a staff writer and photo editor for the Daily 49er newspaper. Before joining VoiceWaves, Todd was a visual journalism intern and freelancer for Southern California Public Radio. His work has been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists and the Press Photographers Association of Greater Los Angeles. Todd grew up in Los Angeles and enjoys producing stories about policies and the communities that they affect.